We here at 213 Hoops have the pulse on the Clippers’ side of things, but for a look at the Suns’ perspective in this series, we turned to Stephen (@StayTrueSDot3 on Twitter) from the SB Nation blog Bright Side of the Sun for a little Q&A.

1. The Suns have only played with Kevin Durant for 8 games, obviously a low amount. They’re 8-0 in those games, but against weak-ish opposition in a small sample size. How has the fit looked, and do you think the lack of chemistry really matters?

I do not foresee chemistry being an issue, even considering the relatively small sample size. In the games Durant has played, their defense has operated in a manner that certainly seems sustainable. He adds a newfound level of scheme and lineup versatility, and is also very good operating as a secondary rim protector, or as a helper, as well as defending in isolation. His communication and gameplan discipline has unlocked a different ability in keeping their defensive shell intact, against a handful of different matchups.

They’ve also shown great flow playing off of Durant’s extra attention offensively. There’s been little to no random pauses within the offense when an initial action or set breaks down. Plus, Durant is one of the easiest stars to plug into any system, so that plus the fit factor makes chemistry (which has been growing rather quickly) matters of little concern.

2. Chris Paul is probably having the worst season of his NBA career, though he’s still quite good. Do you think he’ll be able to kick it up a notch in the playoffs? Or is he definitively more of a game-manager/spot-up shooter at this stage?

Chris Paul is nicknamed the ‘Point God’ for multiple reasons. Among them is his ability to flip a switch and up his production while sustaining typically elite efficiencies on increased volume in high leverage moments. An underlying reason behind the drop in production this season is the intentionality behind it, in Monty Williams challenging Paul to play on less usage. He finished this season with, by far, his lowest usage percentage (24.9%) and that was not only to preserve him, but to also get him reps playing in a different style. More off-ball repetitions enabled him to find an even better feel playing off the catch. In that, has surfaced a points per shot mark of 1.32 in spot up scenario’s – which is very good. He also finished the season 47.3% on spot up three’s, and was at 72.6% from three on 2.8 catch-and-shoot attempts over his last eight games played. He will certainly see an uptick in general activity as the shackles will be relinquished from him, however, there will be a better blend to the manner in which he attacks, by-way of the conditioning from the regular season.

3. The most notable weakness with the Suns outside of age/injury concerns is a somewhat shaky depth situation. Is there someone that Clippers’ fans might not be familiar with that they should watch for off the Suns’ bench in this series?

I would say Jock Landale. The Aussie frontcourt piece has had a few impressive showings against the Clippers, and it is largely due to him performing extremely well as a connector. The Clippers deploy switching and defensive schemes that are active at the level of the screen, and Jock is very good playing within an advantage. He can slip screens and playmake out of the short-roll – for himself or to the second-side as a defense is scrambling. He also is good finishing with soft touch attempts against mismatches. That, matched with him now spending more time in the rotation with Paul and Durant – two of the best in the NBA at feeding frontcourt players – naturally will make him a factor. His soft hands and constant activity make him a solid piece to play 8-10 minutes behind Ayton, should Durant not be used as the small ball five.

4. From a Clippers’ angle, the Clips have struggled all season with going small, which is something they did a lot of in 2021 and 2022, and wanted to do this year. Do you think going small, five-out with the bench or even sometimes instead of Zubac is a feasible strategy?

Yes, I do believe it is a feasible strategy for the Clippers, particularly against the Suns. I think that switch-ability that the Clippers can deploy at any given moment can send a handful of the Suns pet offensive actions off-script, or, at the very least, muck up the pace and flow. Particularly with Chris Paul, in his pick-and-roll’s with Deandre Ayton, if the Clippers are going small and have, say, Covington, on Ayton, that presents a switch at the point of the screen and flattens out the action. How the Suns and Paul navigate this will loom large as the pick-and-roll persists as one of the best table setting advantages the Suns have. If the Clippers can neutralize – or even take the effectiveness of this scenario off the table – in stretches, that is an avenue for them to get timely stops. Also, Lue has used small’s who can hold their own on opposing centers, to make said scenarios a switch at opportune times. I’d expect plenty of gamesmanship as familiarity breeds next level competition.

5. What’s your main X-Factor for this series (Paul George health aside)? It could be a player on either team, a strategy, a lineup, etc.?

The effectiveness of Deandre Ayton could truly tilt this series on its head, in favor of the Suns. Ayton has his struggles with consistency at times, but the Suns have seen him be highly effective in each of his two first round series – against the likes of Davis and the Lakers, and Valanciunas and the Pelicans. If he can operate in the gear displayed in those series, especially with Durant and his ability to feed him within an advantage as an in addition to what Paul can do, that changes the math for the Suns and directly impacts the inevitable Clippers’ small ball to come.

Also, ball security. The Clippers were bottom-third post all-star in turnovers, while the Suns were top-3. Postseason games come down to possessions, and if the Clippers are loose with theirs – by doing so to themselves or from the activity of the Suns – that can tilt the scale.

6. What’s your series prediction? You can do one for the Clippers both assuming PG plays and PG doesn’t, or a single prediction splitting the difference!

I see a handful of the issues that have surfaced for the Clippers headed into the Playoffs as dynamics that can be exploited by teams with a solid infrastructure in place. The Suns have that plus an assemblage of top-end talents that fit very well together, and a few pieces that can punch up from their role within the rotation as well. Though Ty Lue will certainly have the Clippers prepared, I think the foundation of the Suns, in addition to the abundance of advantages in playoff scenarios that Durant’s all-time talents infuses, will be too much to overcome. I could see a scenario where, should George return, that shifts some things and maybe garners the Clippers an extra win. Nonetheless, I think this will be a closely played series, but one the Suns put their stamp on. Suns in 5.

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